I have a lot of lists that are directly related to food, which is no secret about my love for lists and facts about food. I thought it would be a wonderful idea to merge two of my favorite things—reading and food—into a list of the top books for foodies. I purposefully omitted cookbooks from the list because they constitute an entirely separate subject. Not all of these novels are about food; some are entertaining for everyone.
10 Gore, Crust, and Butter
Chef Gabrielle Hamilton of New York’s highly regarded “Prune” restaurant is the author of this best-selling book that has been featured in The New York Times. From her early years, she recounts in this book some of the most extraordinary culinary adventures one could imagine. What follows is a brief synopsis of the book based on the Amazon review: “[Gabrielle] relocated to New York City at the tender age of sixteen, subsisting on a diet of McDonald’s ketchup packets and spare change; labored for a soulless catering company for twenty hours a day; traversed Europe, frequently going hungry; and oversaw the culinary needs of children with food allergies at a summer camp.” Her deft use of language enhances her story-telling abilities. Along with her bluntness, she occasionally drops scathing jabs. I can’t speak highly enough of this entertaining read.
9 Getting Fat
A low-carbohydrate diet has new allies, and Gary Taubes is one of them. The reason this book made my list, though, is not because of the dietary habits he promotes but because it is a comprehensive synthesis of all the current research on diet and nutrition. He shows (with many references) that the current food pyramid is based on a badly conducted study that purposefully omitted anything that contradicted the team’s preconceived ideas and that the contemporary standards for “healthy eating” are to blame for our epidemic of obesity and heart disease. In layman’s terms, he describes how our bodies turn the food we eat into fat, how insulin regulates our hunger levels, and to what cells in our bodies our fat and muscle cells are transported. He wrote the controversial bestseller “Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health,” however this is a condensed and simplified version of it. Although the book does not provide a diet plan, it does contain an appendix that identifies and condemns the things that should be avoided, specifically bread and sugar, which are the items that the government recommends as being the foundation of our diet. The talk that Taubes gave at Google about his work is up there, and you should really watch it because it’s fascinating.
8 A Royal Table
The present French culinary tradition can be traced back to Marie-Antoine Carême. “The King of Chefs, and the Chef of Kings” is how he’s known. Notable clients included the Rothschild family, Napoleon, England’s King George IV, and Russia’s Tsar Alexander I, among others. His enormous edible table centers, known as pièces montées, were his specialty. You can learn a lot about the origins of contemporary food from this book, which recounts his life story. It also features beautiful images of his incredible pièces montées. Anyone with even a passing interest in the history of food or ostentatious cuisine should own this book.
7 The Evolution of Flavor in Food
Beautifully illustrated throughout, this breathtaking book serves as an encyclopedia of culinary history. The book spans the entire human dietary history, from the first hominins to the present day. Reading it is a breeze because of how detailed it is without being stuffy. From prehistoric times to ancient Greece and Rome, imperial China, Islamic cuisine in the Middle Ages, and beyond, he covers it all in his extensive book on food. This is the finest volume on the whole history of what we eat, and it’s a must-have for history buffs who also love food and dining.
6 The Omnivore’s Paradise
Among Jeffrey Steingarten’s many cookbooks is The Man Who Ate Everything, his debut anthology for Vogue. Nearly all of his stories are humorous and written in a friendly, approachable style. It is easy to understand why he was chosen for his esteemed position at Vogue. “Salad: the silent killer” is one of his writings, and in it, he details his culinary escapades all over the globe in search of the finest cuisines. He fries the potatoes in a big pot of horse fat in an effort to make the best french fry ever! I couldn’t get enough of his writing style and ended up buying his second book (below) since I thought this was one of the most enjoyable culinary books ever.
5 What on earth did I eat?
The preceding novel, “The Man who Ate Everything,” is a sequel to this one. It has additional writings and humor from the renowned author Jeffrey Steingarten. His failed attempt to recreate the infamous (and weird) Cajun meal turducken—a turkey filled with duck, chicken, and other meats—is one of the most entertaining anecdotes. Many fallacies are busted by him, including lactose intolerance and Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. He also attempts to make the ideal pizza crust in his home oven. This is a great book to read before bed because of the style of writing and the range of topics; you’ll enjoy reading it and get something out of it every page.
4 Mastering Your Food
Among M F K Fisher’s more than 27 works on the subject of cuisine and cookery is a translation of “Physiology of Taste” by Brillat-Savarin (item 1). Her writings include autobiographical, travelogue, and food writing. She teaches you how to eat like an artist, which is the central theme of her books. Because of its essay format, this book was selected for this list. In it, she offers culinary advice to housewives during World War II who were suffering from food shortages, she paints portraits of friends and family, and her enthusiasm for food and cooking is evident throughout. Every cook, whether at home or in a restaurant, should have this book on their shelf. James Beard honored The Art of Eating as the best cookbook.
3 on the subject of cuisine and the kitchen
This is the perfect book for you if you enjoy debunking myths and enjoying tasty recipes. As far as cooking rules and regulations are concerned, Harold McGee is without peer. According to Mario Balti’s review of the book, “McGee’s immeasurable knowledge and infinite wisdom have hugely influenced the state go gastronomy.” In an exhaustive, all-encompassing manner, this book discusses subjects I have never heard of before. Milk, eggs, meat, edible plants, ethanol, carbohydrates, and a plethora of other foods are discussed in the book. Everything you ever wanted to know about food is right here in this indispensable encyclopedia. As for McGee’s other work, “Keys to Good Cooking,” it’s another recommendation here. It includes the best ways to fry eggs, package eggs, and much more besides. I am awestruck by every page.
2 Contemporary Recipes
Since it includes recipes, this book is the most similar to a cookbook; yet, that is where the similarities end. Newly released in six volumes, Modernist Cuisine examines and explains scientifically every facet of cooking. Barbecue sauce is made from the fat that drips into the coals and evaporates quickly, creating a steam-baste while the meat cooks. You’ll also find out the ideal temperature for cooking almost anything, including vegetables, meat, and eggs. You won’t find a better cookbook than this one. There is some of the most breathtaking culinary photography you will ever see in these enormous books. I really think you should check it out. The expensive price tag belies its excellent value. Along with providing you with excellent recipes for everything, the authors have also adapted recipes from some of the best modern restaurants using their science and hundreds of taste tests. All ingredients, including liquids, are weighed in grams so you can replicate their efforts exactly. The sixth volume of the cooking guidebook is a freebie; it has all the recipes from the first five volumes, but they’re printed on plastic sheets instead of paper, so they won’t get dirty. There is originality in this work at every turn. See the book’s inspiration and learn the secret to the greatest hamburger ever (using sodium hexaphosphate, liquid nitrogen, and other out-of-the-ordinary ingredients) in the video up top. Here are a few images taken for the book.
1 How the Taste Organs Work
This book, written by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, is still the most famous book ever written about cuisine. It has been in print continuously since its 1825 French publication. He talks about how diet restaurants are becoming more popular (it’s funny that he suggests a low-carb or no-carb diet for the obese; see item 9), and he even has a fatty diet for women who want to look fashionablely chubby, which isn’t so trendy these days. A lot of sugary foods, starchy grains, and starchy carbs are part of the fatty diet. The fact that Dr. Atkins waited 250 years to republish the same principles under his own name is indisputable. This is an anthology of essays he penned in his final years as a Parisian judge. This book is so packed with insightful social and historical commentary that I couldn’t put it down.